Italy is home to more indigenous grape varieties than anywhere else in the world. According to Ian D’Agata’s comprehensive guide, “Native Wine Grapes of Italy,” there are approximately 2,000 indigenous grape varieties in Italy. Of those 2,000, approximately 400 of them are used to make commercial wine.
Twenty of these grapes are grown in Piemonte in the northwest of Italy. The most famous grapes are Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto but it is also home to Cortese (the grape in Gavi) and the sweet wines Moscato and Brachetto. Many of the lesser known grape varieties in Piemonte have been close to extinction.
As in Napa, where many grape varieties were pulled up in order to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, in the Asti region in Piemonte, many grape varieties were decreased to plant more Barbera. But, thanks to some winemakers in Piemonte, some of these lesser known grapes have survived and are beginning to thrive again. Two of these grapes are Freisa and Grignolino. Both red grapes, they produce wines that are high in tannins and acidity. They both are fun to say out loud and even more fun to drink and enjoy with food.
When I think of vineyards, I think of rolling hills covered with vines as far as the eye can see. But, recently, as we were driving through the city of Torino, in Piemonte, Italy, we crossed the Po River and drove up a hill and entered a park. There in the park was a large chateau and just to the side of it was a vineyard. This vineyard, Vigna della Regina, is located in the city of Torino and is one of only a few vineyards located in urban settings in Europe.
As I did a little research, I was able to find only a few other urban vineyards in Europe. Historically, there is Montmartre in Paris, the world’s most famous urban vineyard. And there are 1,700 acres of vineyards in the city of Vienna, Austria. More recently, urban vineyards were planted in Thessaloniki in Greece, London in England and the island of Mazzorbo in Venice in Italy.
Vigna della Regina, the vineyard in Torino, has a history of 400 years, dating to the 1600s. Located in the center of Torino, the vineyard is next to the Villa della Regina, a former residence of pleasure for the royal family. Bombing during World War II resulted in the vineyard being abandoned for 50 years. Then, in 1994, the Ministry of Culture began rebuilding the home. It took them 10 years and then they called on the Balbiano family, a famous wine producer in the Torino Hills.